US District Court Dismisses Apartheid Suit Against Ford and IBM

After lingering in the US justice system for 12 years, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit which accused the Ford Motor Company and IBM of aiding and abetting human rights violations in what was then apartheid South Africa.

US District Judge Shira Scheindlin justified the dismissal by explaining that the plaintiffs, who are black South Africans, did not show “relevant conduct” within the US by IBM and Ford to find the companies responsible.

IBM and Ford, in addition to other companies, were accused of helping the government of South Africa, which was practicing apartheid at the time; commit serious human rights violations including torture and murder, by selling military vehicles and computers to the security forces of the regime.

The lawsuit was brought under a 1789 law known as the Alien Tort Statute. This law allows non-US citizens to bring lawsuits against US entities who may have committed crimes violating international law. In April last year the US Supreme Court said that the law only covered laws broken in the US; or violations outside the US that “touch and concern” US territory “with sufficient force.”

The following August the federal appeals court in Manhattan asserted the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that the cases against IBM and Ford should be summarily dismissed.
This past April Judge Scheindlin allowed the plaintiffs to have just one more chance to try and meet the standards set by the Supreme Court’s decision. This past week Scheindlin announced that the plaintiffs did not meet that standard. She said that any supposed violations of international law were performed by the company’s South African subsidiaries, and off of US soil.

“It’s been 12 years. We’re devastated by the decision,” said Diane Sammons, a partner at Nagel Rice in Roseland, New Jersey, who represents some of the plaintiffs.

About Amelia Jacobs

Amelia Jacobs began her career in business following a surprisingly successful trip to China. Having visited the region as a tourist, she returned to America as an import-exporter. Today, Jacobs runs a thriving import-export company, splitting her time between Chicago and Shanghai. Contact Amelia at amelia[at]